The current system of funding agriculture is unfair and is fuelling climate change and the biodiversity crisis, says a new report by a campaigning coalition.

The report by Farm for Scotland’s Future called on the Scottish government to push through an Agriculture Bill that delivers for both nature and the climate.

It also countered claims that Scotland needs to prioritise food security over the environment, saying,  “Of course, we must produce food to be food secure: but without a stable climate and healthy ecosystems, our ability to produce food will increasingly be threatened.“

Farm for Scotland's Future, a coalition of members of Scottish Environment LINK and farmers’ groups, is calling on the Scottish government to “show strong leadership” and deliver “a new system that reflects the scale of the challenge and ensures that our farmers and crofters can produce food in climate and nature-friendly ways.”

Deborah Long, Scottish Environment LINK’s Chief Officer said: “Scotland’s farmers and crofters play a vital role in producing food and managing our land. The new farm funding system must support them to do so in a sustainable way. But the current, decades-old system rewards land ownership, rather than good land use, and is failing to help the farmers who want to produce food while protecting the environment.”

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The current distribution of funding, which is still based on EU Common Agricultural Policy, is, the report said, "massively weighted towards a minority of large landowners without achieving public policy objectives, including nature restoration and climate change mitigation.”

Almost two-thirds of payments go to just twenty percent of claimants.

Agriculture is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. Around half of these are methane emissions from livestock. Farming is also responsible for the majority of emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Previous studies have also identified Scotland as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The Biodiversity Intactness Indicator ranks Scotland’s biodiversity intactness as 28th from bottom out of 240.

“Farmland management,” the report said, “is one of the most significant pressures on biodiversity due to the expansion of crop and grazing lands into native vegetation, unsustainable agriculture,e and forestry practices, climate change and urban expansion, infrastructure development and extractive industry.”

Climate change, it also noted, is already impacting Scottish food production. Extreme weather contributed to losses of up to £161m for Scotland’s farmers during 2017 and 2018.

The amount of Scottish soil lost each year, it reported, is around 920,000 tonnes – enough to fill Murrayfield Stadium. Soil erosion is estimated to cost £50m per year in Scotland.

The report also echoed the Climate Change Committee’s report on Scotland’s progress last year, which highlighted intensive agriculture as a barrier to progress, and noted the lack of a "coherent strategy”

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The new Agriculture bill, whose consultation is already complete, is due to go through parliament later this year – and provide the replacement for the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

In March the Scottish Government published a Route Map for agricultural reform, which said, "In the future,e at least half of all funding for farming and crofting will be targeted towards outcomes for biodiversity gain and a drive towards low carbon approaches to improve the resilience, efficiency and profitability of the sector."

Other organisations have also responded to the bill's consultation.

NFU Scotland's director of policy, Jonnie Hall, emphasised the importance of “agricultural production."

He said: "It must be front and centre of any vision for Scottish agriculture, or indeed any vision for land use in Scotland. Ensuring sustainable and profitable agricultural businesses through the Bill is the only route to delivering all required outcomes.

“Climate, nature, and wider rural development issues must be addressed, but policies cannot and will not be successful if they disregard the needs of Scottish agriculture. Farmers and crofters need a future support regime in Scotland that supports agricultural output together with practical measures to help cut emissions and enhance biodiversity. The new Agriculture Bill, and how its powers are used, must enable this.”

The Farm for Scotland's Future report is backed by numerous wildlife charities., including WWF Scotland and RSPB Scotland.  

Ruth Taylor, Agriculture and Land Use Policy Manager at WWF Scotland, said: “Research from WWF has shown that we have the potential to reduce our emissions and restore nature, while producing nutritious food that is accessible for all. However, the current policies suggested for agriculture get us less than halfway to where we need to be for Scotland to remain on track to reach net zero."

“This year, we have the opportunity to make sure Scotland leads the way on nature and climate-friendly farming. It's essential that we see strong leadership now from the Scottish Government to make sure that happens.”